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Kirilenko Calls Award A Team Honor

12 February 2008

The summer of 2007 is one that Russian sports fans will not forget anytime soon.

No basketball fan, player or coach at the EuroBasket, where Russia beat the odds and upset France, Lithuania and world champions Spain to win the gold medal, will ever forget.

Andrei Kirilenko sure won't.

He can't forget the moment the final buzzer of the gold medal game sounded, just after a desperation jumper from Pau Gasol bounced off the backboard and rim and stayed out to secure the gold medal for Russia.

Kirilenko, who averaged 18 points, 8.6 rebounds, 2.2 steals and nearly two blocks per game, was voted the MVP of the EuroBasket, and it was revealed last week that he had been voted FIBA Europe's Player of the Year as well.

"It is a big honor," said Kirilenko of his latest recognition.

"But I think it's an honor for our team in EuroBasket 2007."

And that is what made Kirilenko and Russia so special last year.

Utah Jazz star Kirilenko was the face of Russia, but they won gold only, he says, because they played as a team.

Viktor Khryapa, JR Holden, Nikita Morgunov and the rest of the Russians were outstanding.

American-born Israeli coach David Blatt, who is in talks to extend his contract through 2012, turned Russia from a bunch of no-hopers into a group that believed it could win.

Indeed, Kirilenko knows that later this summer at the Olympics in China the Russians will only do well if they play as a team.

"Nobody even (counted on) us and (they) deemed us underdogs," Kirilenko said in the Utah press.

"But we won the whole thing."

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